Aping the runaway success of Netflix is so difficult in these days of 100,000 streaming services but it’s what all broadcasters want; a way to get liner-TV-rejecting Gen-Z eyeballs on their shows and, perhaps more importantly, on their adverts.
ITVX is the last big gamble from ITV, and when I say big, I mean a staggering £180 million price tag. It’s a model, apparently inspired by Paramount, that’s trying to be all things to all people, supported by advertising and subscription.
In a series of very annoying adverts featuring top-dollar stars (Matthew Macfadyen, Helena Bonham Carter and John Boyega) ITVX promises to be the UK’s freshest streaming service.
Fresh meaning youngest? Well of course you are until the next one comes along in approximately 0.6 seconds. Anyone who has ever suffered through the notoriously buggy and user-unfriendly ITV Hub interface welcomes the replacement.
This is when it starts to get complicated. ITVX Premium, the ad-free version, has all of the BritBox streaming service’s catalogue available for subscribers. But BritBox subscribers won’t have access to ITVX.
BritBox has always felt like a strange fit for British audiences. A joint venture between ITV and the BBC, it originally launched in the US in 2017 as a place for Americans to get their fix of Downton Abbey and Silent Witness. It came to UK customers in 2019 with the promise of older hard-to-find box sets of classic shows, but it’s always felt like an international product repackaged for a UK audience who doesn’t quite know what it’s for.
In response to the news about ITVX the BBC have sold their shares, leaving BritBox as wholly ITV owned, which makes it a strange appendage to ITVX. And within the past few days the broadcasting regulator Ofcom has lifted a restrictive time limit on the BBC’s ability to stream shows on iPlayer. Expect to see it become something more of a library than just a catch-up service.
We’re told BritBox UK will still be a stand-alone service and a going concern, but without exclusive content and the original partners you’d be forgiven for wondering exactly how long for.
Pre-release, ITVX has had what can only be described as a bewildering marketing campaign, and I’m not sure very many people outside of the media bubble know what it is. The line in the blurb that piqued my interest was having new ITV shows up to six months before their terrestrial air date. That time frame seems wild, like a relic of a past age when we had to wait months, years even, for American imports. Waiting six months for anything seems redundant in the days of UK and US simulcasts and the challenge that piracy presents to all broadcasters. For viewers it would further fracture the audience between the have-seens and not-seens.
How could anything on ITV be promoted as new and exciting if a good portion of your audience has already seen it, talked about it, and got bored of it? Maybe they’re hoping that stretch of time will mean we’ll watch it a second time at broadcast, having forgotten we watched it six months ago.
The more I’ve researched this article, the more confused I’ve become. What exactly is ITVX? What platform will it run on? My laptop? My phone? Will it replace ITV Hub? And what on earth is going on with BritBox? These questions should have been answered by now.
Guess what turns savvy Gen-Z off like nothing else? Needlessly complicated tech. Most disappointingly the service isn’t compatible with older smart TVs, so I don’t see how it can be a hit with people of my generation who like watching things, especially expensive prestige dramas like ITVX’s flagship A Spy Among Friends, on the big telly.
A brief look at my not-very-old TV reveals I can’t get it. Maybe ITVX can ride out these teething problems? Their shareholders and advertisers certainly hope so.
But as it stands, this is a mess, released just in time for the festive peak telly-watching season. Almost exactly the right way to put people off.